1863: Michael Gonnelly to James Gonnelly

This letter was written by Michael Gonnelly (1836-1863)—a native of Ireland—who enlisted at the age of 25 in Co. E, 72nd New York Infantry [3rd Excelsior Brigade] on 8 August 1861 at Dunkirk. He was killed in action at Gettysburg on 2 July 1863. [also borne as Gonnolley]

At Gettysburg. the regiment—which had by this time become noted for its fighting qualities—occupied the center of Dan Sickles’ advanced position on the Emmitsburg road west of the Trostle farm. This position was valiantly defended by the Excelsior brigade against Barksdale’s and Wilcox’s men until outflanked by McLaws’ men of Longstreet’s Corps. The loss of the 72nd New York here was 114, and the ranks, which later fought at Kelly’s ford, Bristoe Station and in the Mine Run campaign, were sadly thinned. All totaled, the 72nd Regiment lost 11 officers and 150 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 1 officer and 88 enlisted men to disease, a total of 250. It is honored as part of the Excelsior Brigade monument at Gettysburg with its sister regiments from the brigade, the 70th, 72nd, 73rd and 74th New York Infantry.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Michael Bursaw and is published by express consent.]

A pre-war Ambrotype of Michael Gonnelly, his letter, & his Dog Tag


Camp Nelson Taylor, Va.
May 28th 1863

Dear Brother,

I received your letter a couple days ago and [the] Irish American sometimes. I was glad that you, Margaret, and Jack was well as I am happy to say I am at present myself, thank God. I m glad you are getting along so good. It makes me feel glad among all the excitement of a battlefield. I hope you will continue to get along good.

I received a letter from Tom McLamplin’s brother from New London, Connecticut. He just arrived from Ireland. Send word to Tom and let me know if Tom looked after his brother’s pay or bounty that was killed.

You said if I could get a furlough. There is none now. Besides, there is enough looking after them than the Dunkirk friends. I will wait until my time is out or the war is over.

I don’t see what John is raising your letters for I suppose[d them] burnt long before this. There is nothing new around here. We are at our case at present but may not be in 24 hours as things come sudden.

I have no more to say at present. I send my love to you, Margret, & Jack and all friends. I just came off guard and feel sleepy. All the boys is well.

I remain your affectionate brother, — Michael Gonnelly, Co. E, [72nd New York] Third Excelsior Brigade, Camp Nelson Taylor, near Fredericksburg, Va.





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